2001-2002 Gonzaga Schedule Toughest Ever

Three games against power conference teams in Anchorage, a date in The Pit, a battle with the Shark's best team since his NCAA Championship team, a daunting East Coast assignment, plus the always-tough regional contests, add up for many challenges for Coach Few and the Zags.

In what will easily be Gonzaga's toughest schedule in school history, the opportunities for great success follow each other like rapid machine gun fire. The challenges are abundant and the exposure (nationwide and regional) just keeps increasing for the Zags. We don't have all of the dates yet and these are thumbnail sketches of each team. When the official schedule is released, we will have it, along with times and TV coverage.

It will all start in Champaign, Il, on the campus of the Fighting Illini. Head Coach Bill Self has himself a legitimate top-5 team with All-American candidate Frank Williams and Cory Bradford making a dynamic backcourt to compliment the Illini's seasoned big men in 6'11" Robert Archibald and 6'10" Brian Cook. Last year Illinois won the Big-10 and just missed defeating Arizona for a Final Four birth.

Gonzaga has been invited to play in the prestigeous Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, AK., and will open play against the St. John's Red Storm, a Big East power under Head Coach Mike Jarvis. Look for the Johnnies to be looking to avenge a defeat at the hands of the Zags two years ago. The second-round game will pit Gonzaga against either Texas or Oregon State, depending on who wins and who loses. The third and final game for the Gonzaga Bulldogs could be against Indiana or Tennessee, two top teams from power conferences. Needless to say, winning this tournament will be a major accomplishment for any team.

An improving Portland State team that had a stellar recruiting season will visit The Kennel. Look for a good game as the Vikings will contend for the Big Sky Conference title.

In a battle of Bulldogs, Jerry Tarkanian's best Fresno State team ever will take on Gonzaga at a neutral site. First set to take place in Mandalay Bay, a Casino Resort Complex in Las Vegas, both schools agreed to change venues after the NCAA voiced concerns about college games in gambling settings. Tark has an All-American in frontcourt big man Melvin Ely and also in point guard Tito Maddux for a potent inside-outside attack. Fresno State is a top-20 team.

The University of Washington will host Gonzaga in Hec Ed Pavilion, and it will be a dog fight as Head Coach Bob Bender has just brought in one of the finest group of freshmen recruits in Husky history. With key players back at the point and wings, the Dawgs will be much-improved and looking to seriously bid for a post-season tournament.

On an East Coast road trip, the Zags will fly to New York to play a NCAA Tournament team in Monmouth University, then jet down to Philadephia for a tough game against St. Joseph's, a team touted to have one of top backcourts in college. Melvin O'Connor and Jameer Nelson are generally considered to be the top guard duo in the nation, right there with Duke and the Zags' Dickau and Stepp. St. Joe's in a top-20 team.

Perhaps the toughest game in one of the most hostile venues anywhere will be New Mexico in The Pit. The Lobos just edged Gonzaga by a point in O-T last year, and they are a program on the rise under Head Coach Fran Franchilla. A big feather in the Zags' RPI cap if they can pull this one out.

Eastern Washington's Eagles are getting better every year, knocking on the door to the Big Dance the past two years; EWU will be better yet and will challenge Gonzaga for area bragging rights. The Grizzlies of Montana had a subpar year last season, but knowing that program, it won't be long before they're contenders in the Big Sky again; the Griz will be tough. The Washington State Cougars came so close to an NIT bid last year, needing to beat the Los Angeles schools, but it wasn't to be as the Sweet Sixteen UCLA Bruins and the Elite Eight USC Trojans escaped Pullman with wins; with premier point guard Marcus Moore and a talented big man in J. Locklier, the Cougs will be looking to post enough W's to see a postseason invite, and they will be fully capable of achieving that under Head Coach Paul Graham. The Zags will host Arkansas-Pine Bluff of the Southwestern Conference.

Nov. 16 - at Illinois

Nov. 18 - University of Montana

Nov. 22 - St. John's in Great Alaska Shootout

Nov. 23 - Texas or Oregon State in G.A.S.

Nov. 24 - Team to be determined in G.A.S.

Nov. 29 - Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Dec. 1 - Portland State University

Dec. 4 - Eastern Washington University

Dec. 8 - Fresno State University (Great Western Form/LA)

Dec. 11 - at University of Washington

Dec. 15 - Washington State University

Dec. 21 - Eastern Oregon State College

Dec. 29 - at Monmouth University

Dec. 31 - at St. Joseph's University

Jan. 7 - at University of New Mexico

It'll be an exciting schedule and there may be a surprise or two added to the above matchups, so stay tuned!

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